Home | Policy & Reform | ‘Many…cannot afford to eat’: Poverty-stricken postgrads plea for concessions
Image: CAPA, via Facebook

‘Many…cannot afford to eat’: Poverty-stricken postgrads plea for concessions

Eniola David Ibraheem, the second of four children, hails from Nigeria. He initially studied international law and diplomacy, and worked as a mediator in his home country. Now, as a Masters in Social Work student at Monash University, he could not be further from his roots. Yet he remains committed to causes. As President of the Monash Postgraduate Association (MPA), he is a leader of the fight for concession fares for full-time Victorian postgraduates.

Victoria is the only state that doesn’t provide concession fares to full-time postgraduate students, which Ibraheem says are much-needed.

“I’ve been with the MPA for about-two-and-a-half years, and I’d say that within that period there’s been a constant flow of students coming in to ask for any of the benefits we can offer them. I’m going meet with a few tomorrow as well,” he said.

On Tuesday, the MPA is holding an on-campus rally to raise awareness of the issue. Along with a BBQ to attract interest, it will circulate a petition by Fares Fair PTV, a Victoria-wide student-led group, for signature by students and staff.

Saskia Ruttor, a PhD student at Monash University’s School of Geosciences, has lent her voice to the campaign. Her undergraduate friend earns more than her and, unlike her, receives concession fares. “How is that fair or reasonable?” she posed.

Full-time postgraduate students, many of whom are undertaking PhDs, survive by, if they’re lucky, receiving a stipend, in addition to doing casual work. This doesn’t amount to much, says Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) National President Natasha Abrahams. “It’s not comfortable to be a PhD student.”

“The majority of full-time postgraduate students receive an income only slightly above the poverty line,” Ibraheem added.

Abrahams, who is doing a PhD in sociology at Monash, used to receive a stipend. However, her thesis is taking longer than expected, so the stipend ran out. Now, she works as well as studies to stay afloat, and says it’s cheaper for her to drive to university than to use public transport. “If I was to use public transport every day, I’d be spending about $60 a week … which is a lot,” she said. “It’s just another one of those little things to stress about which is more expensive than it needs to be.”

She thinks there’s a myth that postgraduate student are well off, which, through the campaign, she hopes to dispel. “In previous years, it might have been that a typical visible post-graduate student would be a man in his forties coming back to do an MBA [so] he could get a promotion. Whereas these days, post-graduate students are a lot more diverse; there’s a huge amount of international students, many of whom literally cannot afford to eat. There are a lot of domestic students who are quite young and very similar in their characteristics to undergraduate students,” she said.

Ibraheem believes postgraduate international students have it particularly hard, due to restricted work rights.

In opposing concession fares for full-time postgraduates, the Victorian Labor government argues that, if deemed in-need, they already have access to the Low Income Health Care Card. This can allow users cheaper public transport. “There are no current plans to provide postgraduate students with concessions on any other basis,” Tim Clare, a Public Transport Victoria spokesperson said.

Yet international students are not eligible for the card. Further, long waiting periods can apply. This is Abraham’s current situation: she put in an application some time ago, and awaits her card, “so at the moment I’m paying full fares for public transport even though I’m low income,” she said.

She and her peers might not have to wait too much longer for cheaper fares, with or without the card. With a state election scheduled for 24 November, postgraduates hope that if the Liberal party wins, it answers their plea.

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